Although Sandy Murman considers the $600 million in funding for transportation improvements over the next decade that her County Commission colleagues recently approved as a weaker version of her original proposal, she doesn’t mind taking credit for it.
“I will tell you, and I’m being very honest. If it hadn’t been for me bringing my new plan forward, we would not have $600 million in transportation approved a couple of weeks ago,” she said Friday morning.
Murman’s comment at the weekly “Cafe Con Tampa” event at Hugo’s in Tampa’s Hyde Park generated applause among the approximately 20 people in attendance.
Murman’s original proposal, formed in the wake of the Board of County Commission’s rejection of the Go Hillsborough transportation referendum, called for dedicating one-third of any growth in property and sales taxes to transportation, which would have raised approximately $800 million for road repairs and other fixes over the next decade.
“I didn’t get it,” she says about the board’s refusal to get completely behind her proposal.
They ultimately coalesced around the alternative $600 million proposed by Commissioner Al Higginbotham.
Murman had served as the BOCC’s chair for several years but was stripped of her position November shortly after she first spoke out against supporting the Go Hillsborough Plan and offered up her alternative transportation plan.
The proposal was mocked critically, but months later, the board would ultimately twice reject putting the transportation referendum on the ballot.
The Davis Islands Republican addressed a multitude of issues in her hourlong appearance before the weekly Friday morning club, but she spent considerable time on transportation.
First elected to the board in 2010, she is running for re-election again this fall for the District 1 seat, where she faces Democrat Jeff Zampitella in November.
Murman repeated something that she has said since she came out against the Go Hillsborough plan: that there will still be a need in the coming years for the board to put a transportation referendum on the ballot, but work needs to be done before getting there. “I think you do them when you’re ready.”
“We will never have enough money in our current budget … to answer the need for this growing community,” she added. Hillsborough County is expected to increase by over 300,000 people in the next five years. “We will have to make an investment at some point.”
Murman serves on the HART board, and she says she actually is one such member who supports the proposal first offered four years ago by Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala to combine Hillsborough’s transit agency with its equivalent in Pinellas, PSTA.
“I think a regional system makes sense. I think for any investment the public makes into transit, regional is where we need to be focused, to make it cost effective.” She also supports a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization. “We’ve got to start thinking smarter.”
Referring to Latvala’s elevation to Appropriations Chairman and St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes continued role as Senate Transportation head, Murman said now is the time for Tampa Bay state lawmakers to bring home some of the bacon that for far too long has gone to other major metropolitan areas of Florida.
Referring to her eight years (1996-2004) in the Florida House, Murman said, “I watched the Brinks truck pull up from Miami and Orlando and loaded it up with the money to go back to those communities. And they are much further ahead than we are.”
Murman says she wants to address the county’s land-use and affordable housing policies next year, saying that creating more incentives for developers will go a long way to improving both those items. She says she will propose a checklist that every single development going forward to check on how it will affect transportation and schools.
And Murman says that unless incentives are given to developers to create affordable housing units, it simply won’t happen. “If we don’t get it done, we’re not going to get it done, and this community will still be lost in its policies going forward,” she grimly forecast.
Regarding the controversial Public Transportation Commission, like most local Republicans, she says she’d like to see it abolished, though emphasized that she did not want the BOCC to replace it as a regulatory body.
While Murman said she championed small businesses in the county, one member of the audience challenged her, referring to the BOCC’s approving a $6.25 million subsidy to lure a Bass Pro Shops chain store to the county in 2013. That subsidy was an issue put front and center by Democrat Pat Kemp in her ultimately unsuccessful election bid against Al Higginbotham in 2014. Murman expressed zero regrets for her vote, saying that the county’s return on investment will come back within three years.
And she stated that there are plenty of incentive programs to help small businesses.
On a proposed baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, Murman was emphatic: “If you’re going to use any public dollars at all, there has to be a level of transparency so the public can be assured that we’re not going to get into a situation like we did with Go Hillsborough, where things were too left behind the scenes.”
She added that she had “trust and faith” in the leadership of the Rays to do things “in a very clean way.” Murman agreed with 83 Degrees editor Diane Egner that if public dollars are being spent on the facility, it should have a component to it that allows the public to use it, and suggested sports medicine or magnet school on the property.
Former County Commissioner Ed Turnanchik, who was in the audience, said that back in the 90s when he served on the board, it the board ended up being involved in funding Raymond James Stadium, Steinbrenner Field and Amalie Arena, and said that wasn’t a priority any longer.
“I can’t see spending one dime of general revenue on a baseball stadium when traffic conditions are like they’re in SoHo,” he said, “it’s just not a priority to use general revenues.”
Although several people clapped in support, another audience member disagreed and said that a downtown stadium that runs near CSX lines would be the best location. Murman said she agreed, adding she also likes the possibility of building a park in the Westshore area.